Regents approve $104.5 million Pioneer Hall upgrade

The University’s oldest dorm will be upgraded to include a dining hall for the entire Superblock and will have its housing capacity expanded, among other improvements.

by Kevin Beckman

Pioneer Hall, The University of Minnesota’s oldest dorm, will get a more than $100 million facelift.

The University’s Board of Regents approved plans for the $104.5 million renovation by a 9-3 vote Friday. The expansion of the outdated building — completed in 1932 — will bring it up to code by adding handicapped-accessible entrances and updating heating and air conditioning. Pioneer’s two wings will also be connected with a central spine and a new 850-seat dining facility to serve all of Superblock’s 2,800 students will be added.

The plan’s cost rose $5.5 million from previous estimates, after a sixth floor central spine and 59 more beds to the dorm were included.

Pioneer will close for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. The University will make up for the lost 693 beds by converting Roy Wilkins Hall to freshman dorm-style housing, and by leasing private on-campus apartments.

Regents Michael Hsu, Thomas Devine and Darrin Rosha voted against the measure, saying that such a substantial amount of money should be saved for adding more significant housing capacity.

Since money for University housing can’t come from state appropriations or the school’s general fund, the project will have to be paid for with student housing fees, which are expected to climb past last year’s 3.6 percent increase due to the project.

Other regents said the planned fixes to Pioneer are worth the costs.

“I’ve been a strong supporter of the Pioneer Hall project since 1990, when I had bats in my room and a tennis racket by my bed,” said Regent Laura Brod, a University graduate.

Regent Richard Beeson said the administration’s recommendation would keep the University from having to revisit the project later.

“I don’t like modest rehabs,” he said. “We’re not going to look back on this in 10 years and wish we had done it better.”

Board Chair Dean Johnson said he expected some reservations with such a high sticker price on the project.

“Any time you have projects that are $100 million plus, each regent takes it very, very seriously,” he said. “They had very good reasons why they voted no … the bottom line for all of us is the student experience.”